A&E

Restaurant review: In Gott's we trust

Fast casual eatery elevates menu with superior ingredients from local artisans

By Dale F. Bentson

Just another burger stand or something iconic? Gott's Roadside has been written about from Palm Beach magazine to the Wall Street Journal. It was voted as having one of the best burgers in the country by Food & Wine magazine, and it won a James Beard Foundation award in 2006 for its classic style and food. Iconic is an adjective oft used in describing Gott's.

The local Gott's opened in late September in Palo Alto's Town & Country Village, and has been busy ever since. But are its burgers appreciably better than the competition's? To paraphrase a cliche, burgers are in the eye (or stomach) of the beholder. The Counter, In-N-Out, Bierhaus, Umami and others have their loyalists.

Gott's burgers feature Niman Ranch vegetarian-fed Angus beef, Diestel Family Turkey Ranch turkey patties, veggie burgers, even an ahi tuna burger. Beyond the bun, Gott's offers tacos, salads, chicken dishes, all kinds of fries, soups and thick shakes.

The company's signature design is sleek industrial panache, featuring open-beam ceiling and concrete floor, bare table tops and utilitarian chairs. The inside seats 120, with an additional 160 seats on outdoor picnic benches and under covered walkways and patio umbrellas.

Joel and Duncan Gott officially started in 1999, but the predecessor drive-in dates to 1949, in St. Helena, in the Napa Valley. It was originally known as Taylor's Refresher. When the brothers took over the St. Helena location and decided to expand out of the Napa Valley, the Taylor family sued, claiming ownership of the name. The proceedings became complicated and expensive, so the Gotts decided it was easier to change the name.

The Taylor's Refresher sign still stands adjacent to Highway 29 in St. Helena, but the drive-in building says "Gott's Roadside." Apparently, a compromise was reached.

The other locations -- Oxbow Marketplace in Napa, the Ferry Building in San Francisco and Town & Country Village -- are 100 percent Gott's.

At Gott's, all burgers are one-third-pound patties, plump and filling, especially when paired with stellar toppings. The delightfully piquant green-chile cheeseburger ($8.99) was layered with jack cheese, avocado, salsa, lettuce, mayonnaise and pickled jalapenos on a toasted egg bun. Coupled with sweet potato fries ($3.99), which were dusted in chili powder and served with a cooling ranch, it made a delectable meal.

There were other tempting burger options. The Wisconsin sourdough ($10.99) was loaded with grilled mushrooms, bacon, cheddar cheese and barbecue sauce. The Western bacon blue ring burger ($10.99) was topped with an onion ring, Point Reyes blue cheese, bacon, pickles, red onion and barbecue sauce. All primo.

I did not applaud the ahi tuna burger, though ($14.99). The five ounces of sushi-grade ahi tuna, barely seared, came on an toasted egg bun with ginger wasabi mayonnaise and Asian slaw. The tuna was gristly in the middle and the egg bun disintegrated on contact. It was a mess, and I had to fetch a fork to finish it. For 15 dollars, I expected more.

I also had a slight price issue with the fish tacos ($12.99 for two). While the tacos were fat with Mexican slaw, salsa and jalapeno cilantro sour cream, there wasn't much mahi-mahi. It took several bites before I found the fish nesting at the bottom of the soft corn tortilla. Good flavors, though, and the visual presentation was mouth watering.

Gott's house-made chili ($4.49 cup, $7.99 bowl) was thick with beef and beans. With loads of flavor and made with Anchor Steam beer, the chili was topped with shredded cheddar cheese and green onions. We were in the midst of that cold spell when I had the chili. It tasted like a million bucks that day.

Onion rings ($3.99) deserve mentioning. They were thick and piping hot, beer-battered and lightly salted. The kind of onion rings I think about when I wake up in the middle of the night. Also of delicious note were the uber-thick milkshakes made with Double Rainbow ice cream ($5.99) in a half-dozen flavors.

Since Joel Gott is a winemaker, Gott's Roadside offers a variety of California wines by the glass or bottle, as well as craft beers on tap and bottled brews.

There is a kids' menu and, sometime in the new year, breakfast will be served.

Other than the problem with the ahi burger, which, I am sure, was exceptional, and my quibble about prices, the food was universally very good. Choice ingredients, well-prepared food, with nice presentation details, made the difference.

I applaud the use of trusted local artisans in this carefully crafted menu: Niman, Diestel, Double Rainbow, Point Reyes Cheese, Mary's hormone-free chicken, local produce. Even the wine and beer selections highlight local labels.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, one definition of iconic is "an object of uncritical devotion." Do I consider Gott's iconic? Not quite, but close.

Gott's Roadside

Town & Country Village, 855 El Camino Real, Palo Alto

650-326-1000

Open daily: 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m.

Reservations: no

Website: gotts.com

Credit cards: yes

Parking: shopping center lot

Alcohol: beer and wine

Corkage: $5

Children: yes

Outdoor dining: yes

Party and banquet facilities: no

Noise level: moderate

Bathroom cleanliness: excellent

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